Roots of Evil: The Origins of Metal

With the fiftieth anniversary of metal music around the corner, forthcoming years will witness an increase of publications dealing with the history, legacy and defining characteristics of the genre. This could finally resolve the lack of consensus that still exists regarding the definition and origins of heavy metal.

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Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)

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Article by David Rosales and Johan P. This article is the second in our 1970s Progressive Rock for Hessians series initiated by Johan.

Released in 1974 and signaling the departure of Peter Gabriel from Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway brings the classic era of the band and the genre to an end. It does so rather inconspicuously with a profound accomplishment that is not easy to summarize in such few words. The album materializes the several tacit goals of progressive rock: the incorporation of classical music methodologies into the making of pop rock music, stylistic expansion within coherent boundaries, to the neo-romantic mystical allusions boiling up from vague lyrics into aural explosions in sound.

Musically, it makes use of straightforward pop rock expression expanded with a nod to classical-era structures, while ambients range from avant-garde noise to ambient instrumentals. We may even see the precursor to the post-rock aesthetic but Genesis takes the music somewhere rather than moronically dancing around in the same place. The use of themes throughout songs and the album itself is prominent; it holds the album together and is a direct consequence of that proper classical influence. The lyrical theme of the album is based on Judaic mysticism, with references to the Kabbalah in song titles, concepts, and even the number of total tracks of the release.

The influence of Genesis as per their style at their pinnacle in The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway virtually defines a whole generation of the pseudo-prog we see today in the likes of charlatans to which Steven Wilson belongs, or supreme posers Dream Theater and their numerous unoriginal underlings. Opeth cannot be counted among the superficial fools living off the greatness of Genesis as they are a more eclectic collection of disparaged sources poorly sewn together and because the very little prog rock influence they displayed comes from Gentle Giant. With all certainty, almost any decent-sounding, so-called progressive outfit today that leans towards a pop rock sound with unconventional sound structures is probably directly or indirectly defined by (not merely “influenced” by) classic Genesis.

Particularly outstanding is the elite drumming that underscores the thematic progressions of the rest of the music. At each point it answers to needs in the music, while not shying away from dramatic or even amusing additions to the mix. Jazz percusion technique here is used with taste, forwarding the music, rather than becoming an instrument for divergence into hedonist egotism. Despite this, in The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, none of the elements actually jumps out at the listener: the technical merits are so perfectly fused with the living flow of the music they may be overlooked. In this we may find great contrasts with Yes, whose brilliance was always a close-neighbor to instrumentalist prowess, threatening to and eventually taking over precedence of deeper motivations that move true art (as we see in Relayer).

To finish our brief discussion on this definitive album for progressive rock, we would be remiss in failing to attend to the reasons it achieves such excellence. Considering Nietzschean Apollonian versus Dionysian interplay, a reasonable speculation might start by pointing out that the most superficial and recognizable sounds in this album are distinctively ground in their seventies era. Even the use of avant-gardisms remains within the framework of the experimentation of its time and exemplifies what Pink Floyd were never able to properly approximate. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway does not reject its contemporary influences, but through them accepts the band’s chronological appearance in history and maximizes their channeling of ulterior and less ephemeral reasons.

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Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs (2015)

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On their first album, Obsequiae made use of very simple but consistent and creative melodies in a harmony emulating that of early western music from the late medieval period. Under the Brume of Eos consisted of songs that were essentially folk-heavy metal in the vein of Primordial with black metal vocals. Each few songs an interlude played in an acoustic instrument was inserted. The material was fine for the first fifteen minutes, after that it just boiled down to a collection of songs which were merely collections of riffs. Aria of Vernal Tombs unfortunately did not move beyond this same strategy.

It is important to go back to the just-mentioned style of Primordial. Primordial is one of those bands that is really ideology first, aura and image of the band first, and then music. The music itself is flat, only serving to carry a mood while the image that the listener has in mind (given by lyrics and song names — concept) is imprinted on it from the outside. Obsequiae work in a similar way, except that they take it a step further and actually make use of musical patterns that evoke the era they are using as theme. They also surpass Primordial in that in the short-term, songs are far more dynamic and in Aria of Vernal Tombs particularly coordinate wonderfully with the vocal pulse.

Obsequiae could still move beyond this “cool-riff” sequence approach and give us much stronger songs — and perhaps a conceptual album extending beyond the lyrical and well into the music. Inserting interludes is only the easy way to do this.  Metal bands like Blind Guardian, Rhapsody and even Morbid Angel (on Blessed are the Sick) have done this light and easy concept album arranging, each going further in different ways. Obsequiae and any band looking for using relatively simple yet self-contained and solid songs as the bricks for a strong concept album can look up to Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Until now Obsequiae have only given us scattered ideas in an obviously consistent and distinguishable language. And if music is a language of some kind, Aria of Vernal Tombs is one message in a loop of synonyms and like-words drawn from a thesaurus.

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